The title story of Rick Bass’s 2006 six short story collection The Lives of Rocks is long, almost a novella, and tells the story of Jyl, a woman stricken with cancer. Someplace in Montana or Wyoming or similar, a single woman in a lone valley cabin must pump her own water and keep up a wood fire to heat her home, and drive herself to treatment and back, exhausted though she is. She thinks about her weakness and her father, and she also begins to think about the family that lives on the other side of the mountain, the Workmans.
It’s an evangelical Christian family, parents and five children, who work—yes, work—constantly. Their Protestant industriousness fascinates Jyl, especially the children’s. She begins to carve boats laden with messages for the children, sending them downriver toward the Workman property. She has no idea whether the children will get them.
Bass explicitly relates the conversation Jyl starts with the children to the one she has with her father, right from the beginning. The boats are from “a game she had played as a child, often while waiting for her father to come back from the wilderness.”
She had constructed paper boats and then sent them downstream in the little mountain creeks, running along beside them, following them for as long as she could, hurdling logs and boulders, pretending that the toy boats were ships bound for sea, ships on which she should have been a passenger—voyages for which she had a ticket, but with the ship having embarked without her.
Now, the children represent another voyage on which Jyl had a ticket but failed to embark: maternity. And unlike when she was a child, this time the ships do go somewhere, and two of the children show up at Jyl’s cabin,
Continue reading The Lives of Rocks by Rick Bass